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Revealed: Family betrayals and Juju rituals behind Nigeria's murky human trafficking trade

Of all the shocking aspects of Nigeria's human trafficking crisis we witnessed while travelling with the UK's anti-slavery commissioner, nothing had quite prepared us for this.

Sitting in a dingy interview room in the Benin City's anti-trafficking headquarters, we were told we were to meet a trafficker. You might imagine what was in our mind's eye.

The last thing we expected was a woman.

The last thing we expected was a female trafficker, writes Julie Etchingham Credit: ITV News

Faith is 25-years-old - slight, softly spoken and staring at the floor. She'd been arrested at the border of Burkina Faso where she admits she was taking three women for prostitution, including her sister.

Now, she's terrified of the jail sentence she faces.

But her story, like Nigeria's trade in human beings, is complex.

Faith was taking the women on the same route her trafficker had taken her before he put her into the sex trade.

She had simply copied his business model and turned herself from victim into abuser, a woman exploiting other women who were as desperate as she had been.

A trafficking victim seeks refuge Credit: ITV News

She tells me how it happened.

When I first came back they asked me what I was doing there - I told them I was a hairdresser. I couldn't tell them I was a prostitute.

I told them I didn't want to take anybody - but they begged me. What I hope to achieve was to make enough money to open up a shop back here at home.

– Faith, human trafficker

Faith claims the girls knew they would be entering the world of prostitution, but when I suggested she was a trafficking victim turned trafficker, she told me she didn't know what to say.

Around half of trafficking suspects are women Credit: ITV News

Around half the trafficking suspects held by the Nigerian authorities are women.

It's one reason it's so difficult for the police here to grapple with the crime - they are often hidden in plain sight, operating in the communities they're part of - even, shockingly, within their own family circles.

And there are undoubtedly women involved in the chain of traffickers which have lead to big rise in the number of victims being brought to the UK.

Of the many cultural challenges facing the UK's anti-slavery commissioner, this is one of the toughest to crack.

And there are other cultural binds between traffickers and their victims which are near impossible to sever: Not least, the traditional power of Juju.

The power of Juju is a major factor Credit: ITV News

For centuries, deeply ingrained spiritual beliefs have led Nigerians to the shrines of Juju men who perform rituals to bring luck, protection and prosperity to those who seek them out.

Many hope it will help them climb out of the poverty trap which grips vast numbers in Nigeria.

However, there are some Juju men who are using their craft for much more sinister purposes.

Often, they are paid to perform rituals to bind victims to their trafficker in an oath of loyalty and secrecy.

Using blood and clothing to cement this oath, the ritual psychologically chains the victim to their abuser - leaving them trapped in the perpetual fear that if they betray their trafficker, the repercussions will be severe.

Human trafficking from Nigeria to the UK has increased Credit: ITV News

Such repercussions include death of a family member, or illness of a loved one.

One woman we met spoke of how she was taken to Italy and forced to sleep with up to 20 men a day. During our meeting, she removed a wig to reveal she had suffered dreadful hairloss.

The reason for this, she told us, was a result of escaping the clutches of her trafficker which meant she had broken her Juju oath.

These strong bonds present a significant problem for the authorities who must confront deep cultural beliefs.

A series of raids earlier this year has gone some way to cracking down on the problem, but there will be many hundreds of women across the globe tonight, forced into prostitution, who are haunted by the power of Juju and too afraid to speak out.

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